Carl Walker, GC, policeman who was awarded the George Cross for his role in arresting armed robbers in Blackpool in 1971 – obituary

Carl Walker attends a ceremony at Westminster Abbey in 2006 to mark the 150th anniversary of the Victoria Cross - Ian Jones
Carl Walker attends a ceremony at Westminster Abbey in 2006 to mark the 150th anniversary of the Victoria Cross - Ian Jones

Carl Walker, GC, who has died aged 88, was a policeman who was awarded the George Cross for his heroism in attempting to arrest a gunman in 1971 after an armed robbery at a jewellery shop in Blackpool.

Shortly before 10 o’clock on the morning of August 23 1971, a Triumph estate car pulled up in Queen Street, Blackpool, and four masked gunmen got out. They walked along the Strand and entered Preston’s Jewellers, where they threatened the staff and forced them to lie down on the floor.

The gang smashed display cabinets and filled their holdalls with jewellery, but while they were engaged in this one of the assistants managed to raise the alarm. As they ran for their getaway vehicle, spilling valuables on to the pavement, a police Panda car drove into Queen Street with PC Walker at the wheel.

He rammed the Triumph as the men piled in but it roared off up Queen Street towards North Shore. As Walker went off in pursuit, Frederick Sewell, one of the robbers, pointed a sawn-off shotgun at him through an open window. Walker continued the chase, and when the Triumph turned into a blind alley he seized the opportunity to block the roadway with his car.

With the getaway car now trapped and the gang beginning to panic, Sewell, who was recognised as their leader, took over the wheel. He reversed at high speed down the alley, smashed the police car out of the way and drove off, with Walker, considerably shaken by the force of the impact, again in pursuit.

Preston's Jewellers in Blackpool, scene of the armed raid in 1971 - Mirrorpix via Getty Images
Preston's Jewellers in Blackpool, scene of the armed raid in 1971 - Mirrorpix via Getty Images

A second police car manned by two officers joined the chase and was rapidly gaining on the fugitives when the getaway car suddenly came to a halt. One of the robbers, carrying a revolver, jumped out, walked to the side of the police vehicle and, after taking careful aim through the window, shot and wounded a policeman.

The getaway car raced off to the end of Clifford Road and was mounting the pavement to get past a vehicle when two more police cars turned into its path, rammed it and immobilised it. The robbers, now outnumbered, jumped out and ran up a back alley, but with Walker gaining on them they turned and opened fire.

Walker ignored the two shots fired at him and kept going after the gang until he came within reach of the man holding the gun. A bullet fired at close range hit him in the groin and he fell to the ground badly wounded.

This held up the police for a few moments, and Sewell and his accomplices ran across Cheltenham Road towards a butcher’s van that was being loaded on a forecourt. Hearing the sound of shooting, the workers had run for cover and the robbers scrambled into the van and drove off, with the police once more giving chase.

To prevent the criminals escaping by the rear door, the police drove hard up behind the van, a stratagem that seemed to unnerve the robbers, who crashed into a garden wall in Carshalton Street.

Sewell leapt out of the front but was confronted by Superintendent Gerald Richardson. After a short, desperate struggle, he shot the superintendent in the stomach and ran off with one of his accomplices, the two men eventually making their escape in a stolen Morris van.

Walker, right, with his wife Kathleen, and colleagues Ian Hampson, left - he was also shot during the jewellery robbery - his wife, and chief constable Bill Palfrey, a month after the raid - ANL/Shutterstock
Walker, right, with his wife Kathleen, and colleagues Ian Hampson, left - he was also shot during the jewellery robbery - his wife, and chief constable Bill Palfrey, a month after the raid - ANL/Shutterstock

All the injured men, including two of the criminals, were taken to Victoria Hospital in the town. The doctors fought for an hour to try to save Richardson’s life but his injuries proved fatal.

Three members of the gang were apprehended later that day and both Sewell and the remaining fugitive were caught soon afterwards. Jewellery worth more than £100,000 (about £1.5 million today) had been taken from the shop but most of it was recovered from the pavement of the Strand or from the getaway car.

Walker and Richardson were awarded the George Cross, Richardson posthumously, and four police officers received the George Medal. Walker was invested with the George Cross by the Queen at Buckingham Palace on December 5 1972. Sewell went on to serve 30 years in prison.

Carl Walker was born on March 31 1934 at Kendal, Westmorland, the fourth of seven children of Alexander Walker, who worked in a paper mill, and Sara Jane, née Dickinson. He was educated at Kendal Grammar School before becoming an apprentice joiner. He served his National Service with the Royal Air Force before joining the Lancashire Constabulary in 1954.

After leaving the force in 1956, he worked as a joiner until 1959 before re-enlisting with the police. Walker served with the Blackpool Borough Division and was later promoted sergeant and posted to Fleetwood.

He was a regular player in police rugby teams and took part in many of their wrestling competitions. He received a commendation in 1961, and after the Blackpool robbery he was awarded the American Federation of Police Legion of Valor. In 1982, he retired on medical grounds with the rank of inspector, and he was later a partner in a cab company.

Carl Walker married, in 1955, Kathleen Barker, the daughter of a joiner to whom he had been apprenticed. She died in 2018, and he is survived by their son.

Carl Walker, born March 31 1934, died October 2 2022